The tongue is the most important sensory organ of the body. In this article we will see about a condition of the tongue called 'geographic tongue'. Though this condition is not threatening, a little insight will be useful. Take a look.
We all know the tongue is what enables us the sense to taste. This along with the many other functions are carried out by the tongue. Secretions, swallowing, and the most important, which is the ability of speech is enabled by the tongue. It is virtually and literally one of the most important and active organs of the body. With all the regular wear and tear, we can say the tongue is the most healthiest part, as it seldom complains of any disease or damage. Apart from common issues like ulcers, swelling, tongue infections etc., most of us have not experienced any major issue with our tongues. But there is a condition of the tongue that affects 3% of the total world population (that’s way meager!). This condition is known as ‘geographic tongue’. It can affect anyone, irrespective of age and sex. But it affects more women than men and is most active among adults than children. We will discuss a little more on this term then follow it by an elaborate discussion on the various causes.
Geographic tongue is referred to a condition that creates inflammation on the surface and the sides of the tongue. The term comes from the visual appearance of this condition, which forms a map like appearance on the tongue surface. Certain areas of the tongue get affected, that creates patches of inflammation only in those areas, which creates a map like pattern. It is also known as erythema migrans, benign migratory glossitis and lingua geographica.
Signs and Symptoms
The most visible sign is the discoloration of the tongue, bumpy surface, cracks on the tongue, and pinkish to white bumps called papillae. These conditions of the tongue may vary, may come and go and can last for a long time, sometimes even a year. The signs and symptoms may include irritation and burning, and sensitivity to certain foods. Though not all people affected will have the burning sensation, in certain cases food may trigger the burning, smoking too can cause irritation.
Geographic tongue may look like a serious condition, but it causes the least pain and is not contagious. It is important to know that this condition of the tongue is chronic, but benign. You may get irritated and annoyed by this condition, but it does not cause any health risks or harm. It is nowhere connected to a serious infection or cancer.
This typical behavior of the tongue is known to be caused by missing papillae on the tongue surface. A healthy tongue will have the surface entirely covered with small bumpy granules, these are called papillae. When the skin sheds this texture, this conditions arises. But why does the tongue lose this structure is still not known. Doctors have however tried to narrow down some of the most common causes:
- The most common known cause is heredity. It is observed that this condition can be carried in the genes. It runs in the family and has polygenic inheritance, so if the family has a history of this condition, it may be the cause.
- Food plays a major role here too. It is found that certain foods can cause this condition. Foods that are sour and spicy can aggravate even the mildest of this condition. Small cracks and light discoloration and cracks can further increase and swelling with spicy and tangy foods like citrus fruits and vegetables and even chillies.
- Certain products like toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gum can also have strong flavors and substances that can irritate the tongue at a primary stage of geographic tongue, aggravating the issue. Smoking and tobacco are also triggers of this condition.
- People with extreme sensitivity to the environment, especially those with conditions like psoriasis, allergies, eczema, fissured tongue are most susceptible to this condition. It was also found that people with health problems like diabetes and asthma, and certain vitamin deficiencies like that of vitamin b, were most likely affected.
- Stress is also one reason for worsening geographical tongue. It was observed that stress did not help cure or curb this condition, it made it worse. Some other factors like hormonal changes in women specially during ovulation or pregnancy can cause a geographic tongue.
Most of the time, this condition fades without treatment. It will come and go with time, but in some cases medical help may be required. It is not possible to completely cure this condition. But medication can help deal with this condition, and lessen the pain and signs and symptoms. Mouthwashes containing antiseptic and anesthetic agents may be advised. Topical medication and pain relievers can help you recover from this condition.
A healthy and hygienic lifestyle will help you to stay away from any health issue and even with tongue infections and issues, especially if this is hereditary, make sure you take extra care. Prevention is better than cure, so if you see signs and symptoms, make sure you take precautions and measures and consult a medical expert to tackle this condition.